Anne Frank baptized in Mormon proxy ritual

Anne Frank was baptized in a Mormon proxy ritual in another case of a Holocaust victim discovered to have been baptized posthumously this month.

The ceremony reportedly took place last weekend in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in the Dominican Republic. It was discovered by Helen Radkey, a former member of the Mormon church who has become a whistleblower on such activity.

Only Mormons have access to the church’s genealogy database, which also can be used to submit a deceased person’s name for proxy baptism.

The discovery comes more than a week after it was discovered that the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized last month. Wiesenthal was a Holocaust survivor who died in 2005; his mother was killed in the Nazi death camp Belzec in 1942.

Posthumous baptism, which is done by proxy, is also known as “baptism for the dead.” It allows members of the church to stand in for the deceased to offer them a chance to join the church in the afterlife.

In 2010, the church agreed after meetings with Jewish leaders to halt the proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims unless the names were submitted by their direct descendants.

Anne Frank was posthumously baptized at least a dozen times between 1989 and 1999, Radkey told the Huffington Post.

Also last week, the names of the father and grandfather of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel were found to have been submitted for proxy baptism.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Wiesel called on Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nod, to tell his church to stop performing posthumous proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims.

Wiesel: Romney should speak out about proxy baptisms

Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel said Mitt Romney should speak up about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ practice of posthumous baptisms.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Wiesel said that Romney, the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nod, should tell his church to “stop” performing posthumous proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims.

“I wonder if as a candidate for the presidency Mitt Romney is aware of what his church is doing,” Wiesel told the Huffington Post. “I hope that if he hears about this that he will speak up.”

The Huffington Post reported Tuesday that some members of the church had submitted Wiesel’s name for proxy baptism, in addition to submitting the names of Wiesel’s deceased father and maternal grandfather. They apparently were withdrawn after the report.

The Mormon church since 1995 has said it has stopped the practice of extending such baptisms to Holocaust victims unless they are direct ancestors of Mormons. But a number of Jewish groups have tracked instances of such baptisms.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center blasted the church this week upon discovering that its namesake’s parents had been slated recently for baptism. The church apologized.

Wiesel has been publicly outspoken about this issue, noting that proxy baptisms have been performed on 650,000 Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust.

“I think it’s scandalous. Not only objectionable, it’s scandalous,” Wiesel told the news website.

Mormon church apologizes for proxy baptism of Wiesenthal’s parents

The Mormon church has apologized for the posthumous baptism of the parents of Simon Wiesenthal.

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last month submitted the names of Wiesenthal’s parents for posthumous baptism, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Wiesenthal was a Holocaust survivor who died in 2005; his mother was killed in the Nazi death camp Belzec in 1942.

Posthumous baptism, which is done by proxy, is also known as “baptism for the dead.” It allows members of the church to stand in for the deceased to offer them a chance to join the church in the afterlife. 

In 2010, the church agreed after meetings with Jewish leaders to halt the proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims unless the names were submitted by their direct ancestors.

The church said Monday in a statement that it “sincerely regret[s] that the actions of an individual member … led to the inappropriate submission of these names,” which were “clearly against the policy of the church,” the newspaper reported.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, participated in many of the high-level meetings between Jewish leaders and Mormon officials.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon Temples,” he said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon Church dating back to 1995 that focused on the unwanted and unwarranted posthumous baptisms of Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.”

Meanwhile, some members of the church have submitted the name of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel for proxy baptism, who is still living, the Huffington Post reported.

The submission was uncovered last Friday by Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who lives in Salt Lake City. Wiesel’s father, who died in the Holocaust, and his maternal grandfather also were proposed for proxy baptism, according to the report.

A church spokesman said Wiesel’s name was submitted for inclusion in the church’s massive genealogical database, not for baptism.

Shoah group halts talks with Mormons on posthumous baptism of Jews

A Holocaust survivor organization has broken off negotiations with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) over its practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Nazis.

At a news conference Monday, leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, seated in front of panels listing names of Holocaust victims they say were baptized by the Mormons, said that 14 years of quiet negotiations have proven fruitless.

“We felt we had come to the end of the line,” said Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering. “There is no further point in meeting with them.”

Mormon leaders reacted with surprise to news of the American Gathering’s decision. In a statement, the church said it stood by its 1995 commitment to stop baptizing Holocaust victims and remove their names from the database if they become known — the only remaining question was how best to do so. As recently as Nov. 6, the church wrote to Michel to describe further steps to allay the concerns of survivors.

“We empathize with the depth of feeling of all Jews regarding the Holocaust,” the church said in the statement. “It is our regard and empathy that have kept us talking for so many years.”

The concern of Holocaust survivors stems from the Mormon belief that individuals retain the opportunity to accept or reject church sacraments, including baptism, even after death. Under church policy, members are supposed to submit names only of their relatives. The church has become a global leader in genealogical research to facilitate the research of family histories.

In 1995, the church agreed to remove the names of Holocaust victims from its database, known as the International Genealogical Index, or IGI — a rare suspension of church practice, the church says, done because of the singular nature of the Holocaust and the sensitivities of survivors.

Michel claims, however, that new baptisms continue to be performed and new names submitted to the database, though he acknowledges the complexity of preventing new submissions. Millions of church members submit 30,000 new names a day, the church says, and improper submissions are always expected. A new system under development would make it easier to flag submissions as Holocaust victims for whom temple ordinances should not be performed.

“That’s their problem; it’s not my problem,” Michel said. “They put them in; they got to take them out. That’s the bottom line.”

Jewish communal leaders have been reluctant to back Michel’s campaign, saying that at a time of mounting challenges on several fronts, the internal practices of another religious group — offensive as they may be — should not be a top Jewish agenda item.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Michel expressed interest in discussing the matter with him. But the Reform leader said that he does not see making it a high-priority issue. Yoffie said the internal processes of the Mormon Church are something over which Jews have no control.

“I don’t think this is going to become a major focus of the Jewish community, which now is dealing with a whole range of issues,” Yoffie said. “I wish them well in their efforts.”

But Michel, who frequently stresses that his negotiations with the Mormons have always remained polite and respectful, said the practice is hurtful to Holocaust survivors. He also worries about the uses to which Holocaust deniers may some day put the Mormon records.

“They tell me that my parents’ Jewishness has not been altered,” said Michel’s prepared remarks for the news conference, which was held on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “But in 100 years, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory, who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will some day not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?”

Mormons remove Wiesenthal from ‘baptism’ registry; Philanthropist funds series on composers suppress

Mormons remove Wiesenthal from Registry

The Mormon Church has removed the name of the late Simon Wiesenthal from its international genealogical index, avoiding a new dispute over accusations that the Church conducts vicarious baptisms for the deceased of other faiths.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints took the action after a strong public protest by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, named in honor of the famed Nazi hunter.

However, a Mormon spokesman expressed his surprise that the Wiesenthal Center had not contacted the church directly before issuing a press statement on the matter.

In his statement, Hier said that “We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church, that Mr. Wiesenthal’s life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded.

“Mr. Wiesenthal proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew … and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God’s eternal blessing,” Hier added.

The issue has been a sore point with Jewish organizations, after it was learned in the early 1990s that some 380,000 Holocaust victims had been placed in the Mormon genealogical database as a step toward posthumous baptism.

Bruce Olsen, the Mormon Church’s chief spokesman as press secretary to the First Presidency, said Tuesday that following Hier’s request, “no Church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index.”

In 1995, Church officials signed an agreement with Jewish organizations to remove the name of Holocaust victims from its database.

Olsen noted that since then, the Church has maintained excellent relations with the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish institutions, and that he was surprised to first learn about Hier’s concern when contacted by journalists.

Mark Paredes, director of the Church’s Jewish Relations in Southern California, emphasized that Church policy provides that its members can submit only the names of their own ancestors for posthumous baptism.

“Those who submitted the name of Mr. Wiesenthal or Holocaust victims represented a few misguided members, who certainly do not represent the Church as a whole,” Paredes said.

Hier was traveling and could not be reached for comment at press time.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Philanthropist funds series on composers suppressed by Nazis

Marilyn Ziering, a Los Angeles Opera board member and a Los Angeles-based philanthropist, has announced that she will donate $3.25 million of her own money and an additional $750,000 she raised to fund the L.A. Opera’s multiyear series of concerts on composers whose works were suppressed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The project, known as “Recovered Voices,” will kick off with two concerts in March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, featuring the work of Alexander Zemlinsky, Kurt Weill, Viktor Ullmann, Franz Schreker, Walter Braunfels and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Nazis created “a great breach in the continuity of music when this music was suppressed and denied,” Ziering said. So forgotten are a number of these composers that Ziering, who grew up listening to Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, admitted that “some of the composers I had never heard of nor heard their works before.”

The philanthropist’s late husband survived work camps, ghettoes and concentration camps, and she said she is making the donation at this time because L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon “has a passion to do this.” Conlon, a Catholic, will conduct the concerts, which will continue through 2010.

— Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer

L.A. City Council approves declaration on immigrants rights

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved on Dec. 13 a pro-immigrants’ rights declaration conceived by the local Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The so-called “Declaration of Los Angeles” calls for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants; denounces xenophobia, especially against Latino immigrants; and encourages law enforcement agencies and courts to adhere to the highest ethical standards when dealing with issues surrounding the deportation and detention of immigrants. The document also criticizes vigilante citizen groups for creating an atmosphere of fear that raises the potential for violence against undocumented immigrants.

“At this particularly volatile time in our country’s history, we find it of the utmost importance to unite against hatred and victimization aimed at many people who migrate to this country,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a statement.

The ADL and 17 partner groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the ACLU of Southern California and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, plan to lobby the California Legislature to approve the declaration during its 2007 session.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Publisher of planned O.J. book allegedly fired over anti-Semitic comments

The decision to fire Judith Regan, the Los Angeles-based publisher behind the controversial O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” book and television deal, came after News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch learned of comments she made to a company lawyer on Dec. 15 that were deemed anti-Semitic.

On Monday, a News Corp. spokesman released notes taken by attorney Mark Jackson to the Associated Press that detailed his conversation with the publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of News Corp.’s HarperCollins. During the conversation, according to the AP report, Regan told Jackson, who is Jewish: “Of all people, Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies, and telling the big lie.”

Jackson’s notes describe Regan using the term “Jewish cabal,” to describe a group that included himself, literary agent Esther Newberg, HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, and Jane Friedman, HarperCollins president and chief executive, who reported details of the conversation to Murdoch.

Regan’s attorney, Bert Fields, plans to file a lawsuit against HarperCollins for dismissing Regan, claiming breach of contract, according to The New York Times. Referring to the alleged comments, Field reportedly said: “They were looking for an excuse to fire her, and they fired her, and called it anti-Semitic. It ain’t anti-Semitic.”